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Concepción García Gaínza, President of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art.

Protection for the Franciscan convent

Sun, 07 Dec 2014 17:07:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The history of the convent of San Francisco de Olite is well known thanks to the chroniclers of the Order of the XVIII century and especially to the Manuscript of Father Herce.

In the opinion of the former, it was founded by the queen dowager Doña Juana, but history shows that the convent already existed in the 13th century, since the first documentary evidence dates from 1243, when Jimeno de Centa, racionero of San Pedro de Olite, provided in his will for a pious order for the "friars minor". A widespread local tradition assumes that this convent was founded by St. Francis of Assisi himself on his journey to Compostela.

The convent complex, located behind the castle from whose orchard magnificent views can be seen, was protected by the kings who sought the proximity of the Franciscans during their long stays in Olite and organized solemn functions and funerals in their church. Thus, Theobald II in 1270 bequeathed in his will 2,000 sueldos for the construction of the church, and Doña Juana and Carlos II continued to exercise their protection.

Of this medieval temple there is little more than the doorway built by Doña Blanca with the Navarre-Evreux arms and fine sculpture attributed to the Lome workshop, and in the interior there are some Gothic tombs located at the foot of the church and in the presbytery another tomb of the wife of Don Carlos Mauleón, Lord of Rada and Traibuenas, the first patron of the main chapel.

The convent complex was ruined for various reasons, reaching an extreme status following the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Due to its ruinous state and also because of the conversion of the convent into an Apostolic Missionary high school , a new building was built for the new function and a large baroque church designed by renowned architects. It would count on the protection of Ferdinand VI, who bequeathed 4,000 ducats for the construction, and the donations of Francisco Mendinueta, worthy representative of the "Hora Navarra", from Pamplona, knight of the Order of Santiago and resident in Madrid, whose influences and negotiations would achieve the acceptance of the king for the extension of the land needed for the convent site at the expense of the King's Garden.

It was also general partnership of the neighbors offering their carts and horses to carry stone from the wall. A little later the king would exchange the Huerta del rey for the convent's orchard. In this way, the conventual complex -church, convent and orchard- was left independent of the roads. The great nave (1749-1757) with chapels where altarpieces and sculptures of great artistic merit were placed.

Patrons and patrons
The convent church sample in the splendor of its chapels shows the importance of its benefactors and their generosity in endowing them, as some of them were chapels of board of trustees where they worshipped the saints of their devotion, in altarpieces that bore the coats of arms of their lineage and where they planned their burial.

One of the greatest benefactors of the Franciscans in the construction of the convent and the church was the aforementioned Francisco de Mendinueta, an important benefactor well known by the study of S. Aquerreta in the historical facet, by J. J. Azanza in the artistic and by F J. Corcín in the framework of patronage. Correspondingly, he was rewarded in 1757 by the community with the board of trustees of the chapel of St. Joseph, to whom he was especially devoted, and to whom he dedicated an altarpiece and image and a precious silver lamp. An engraved tombstone was placed on the pavement and his coat of arms culminates the entrance arch to the chapel.

Another prominent benefactor was the Marquis of Feria, patron of the chapel of San Antonio located at Wayside Cross. The degree scroll of Marquis of Feria was granted to Don Francisco Félix de Vega in 1740 by King Philip V.

Closely linked to Olite, the house of the Marquis of Feria is located in the Calle Mayor of the city. The Marquis made the altarpiece and its gilding at his own expense and also paid for and sent from Madrid the sculpture of St. Anthony and Child, a monumental and exquisitely executed carving that we must attribute, given its advanced date (1765), to the sculptor Juan Pascual Mena, director of the Academy. On the altarpiece is engraved the coat of arms of the Marquis, who ordered a tombstone and two silver lamps.

Years before the remodeling of this chapel, the Marquis of Feria had given to the church the busts of the Soledad and the Ecce Homo that he also sent from Madrid in 1750. That same year Don Alejandro Vega, general superintendent of Juros, sent from Madrid thanks to the efforts of his relative, Father Francisco Javier de Cadiñanos, the sculpture of Saint Francis of Assisi, which went from presiding over the main altarpiece to a chapel of its own to occupy a new altarpiece. It is one of the most expressive and sensitive representations of the saint of Assisi from the gouges of Luis Salvador Carmona, the best sculptor of Madrid in the mid-eighteenth century.

A great patron of the convent church of Olite was also Doña Bernarda Munárriz, wife of Don José Orta, who, while in Madrid, ordered the best artisans to make three important images that have enjoyed great devotion in the town. They are Our Lady of Mercy, Saint Rose of Viterbo and the Virgin of the Choir, all three with the finesse and sensitivity that betray the hand of the sculptor Luis Salvador Carmona. Of special importance is the figure of Santa Rosa de Viterbo, a Franciscan saint with a smiling face facing the flames of martyrdom on which she sits. It was brought from Madrid in 1749. The other two images are of clothing: that of the Misericordias presides over its own altar in the Wayside Cross and that of the Choir has lost the great cult that it received in other times, as in other Franciscan convents.

In the 18th century, the new patron of the church was Don Francisco de Paula Bucarelli y Ursúa, Captain General and Viceroy of Navarre, who completed the main altarpiece made by three Franciscan carvers directed by Fray Manuel Ortega "very skilled in the subject, master of great ideas and exquisite carver". Bucarelli, who had arrived in Navarre in 1778 and for a time had his residency program in Olite, showed closeness and generosity to the Franciscans and decided to gild the altarpiece, as recorded in a registration dated 1779, and commissioned the mural paintings of the main chapel to the painter from Cascante, Diego Díaz Díaz de Cascante, Diego Díaz de la Cruz. from Cascante, Diego Díaz del Valle. He also completed the sculptures of the main altarpiece with the medal of St. Francis receiving the wounds, which he commissioned from the Estella sculptor Lucas de Mena, as well as a sculpture of St. Bonaventure for his altarpiece and other improvements in which the Viceroy spent large sums of money.

Thanks to such distinguished patrons and patrons, the convent church was completed as well as its altarpieces and sculptures made without sparing means by the best artists of the time and thanks to the well-to-do Navarrese in Madrid, connoisseurs of the outstanding sculptors of the Court, who, with their economic legacies and artistic commissions, devoted themselves to the church of the Franciscans of Olite, where one can admire today a rich and harmonious ensemble of that Hora Navarra of the XVIII century that Julio Caro Baroja accurately discovered in his revealing book and that had important artistic repercussions in our land. The church of Olite preserves an important group of academic sculpture comparable to those of Azpilkueta, Lekaroz, Irurita or Lesaka.

Devotional images
In addition to the images mentioned in the church that have received worship over the centuries, there are two others that are especially linked to Olite and enjoy great popular devotion.

The first is the Santo Cristo of Olite, according to registration, a dramatic image of the dead Christ with abundant blood stains in relation to the Hispano-Flemish crucifixes of the end of the 15th century. It is an articulated Christ that allows the representation of the Descent from the Cross. It presided over the rogation procession in 1607 and 1655.

The second image is the Inmaculada or Virgen del Cólera that presides over the main altarpiece at least since the beginning of the 19th century. Proclaimed patron saint of Olite, it solemnly celebrates its feast every year on December 8. This dressed image, surrounded by a silver halo, is a devout and miraculous image invoked in droughts and epidemics such as the cholera epidemic of 1885, in which, implored in a novena by the people of Olite, the plague "did not enter" the town.

Vigilance and protection
An uncertain future opens from now on with the next withdrawal of the community, now reduced to three friars, who have carefully and lovingly guarded their convent as did those who preceded them for eight hundred years.

They have kept alive the cult and its traditional images, responding to the devotions of the people of Olite and have allowed with their custody that the ensemble has reached us intact, maintaining the spiritual function for which it was created.

The closure of the church, which seems irremediable, is traumatic for everyone, for the Franciscans, for the town itself and for all of us. It is necessary, but even more so in the present circumstances, to be extremely vigilant and protective of the convent and its church and to keep it open at least with a weekly service as a guarantee of its care and conservation.

It is convenient that the conventual church be preserved as a whole without thinking about the dispersion of works, which would reduce its value and would painfully mutilate the bequest of so many centuries. The new times and their circumstances make it necessary to look for new solutions and to unify efforts with common sense on the part of the institutions, the church, the order, the friends of the monument and in final of the society that has to fulfill its responsibility to bequeath to the new generations the received patrimony.

To maintain a heritage that has interwoven the history of Olite and its inhabitants for centuries, with the active participation of kings, generous patrons and patrons with the membership of the Franciscan order. It is worth remembering here the phrase of the Athens Charter that says: "The greatest guarantee of conservation of monuments and works of art comes from the affection and respect of the people". Affection, respect and knowledge of their meaning and value in history.